Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER PLAYERS host Black Cedar Trio (above) in Aptos. MESSIAH SING-ALONG by I Cantori at Carmel Mission with guest conductor Sal Ferrantelli. CHEKHOV’S CHERRY ORCHARD opens at Mountain Community Theater. ELF, THE MUSICAL opens at King City High. MPC STRING ENSEMBLE in Monterey. MPC CHORUS’ “Ceremony of Carols” likewise.CHICAGO THE MUSICAL in Carmel. INSCAPE ‘mixed ensemble’ to play Sunset Center. UCSC ORCHESTRA; UCSC CHAMBER SINGERS; UCSC WIND ENSEMBLE. CABRILLO COLLEGE CHORALE. CABRILLO COLLEGE FALL DANCE CONCERT. SUPERIOR DONUTS opens at Monterey Peninsula College. ARIA WOMEN’S CHOIR in Aptos & Pebble Beach. FOR LINKS to these and dozens of other live performance events click on our CALENDAR OR ON THE DISPLAY ADS, LEFT.

BLACK CEDAR TRIO’S “VIRTUOSITY DEFINED”

CONCERT DIRECTOR AND FLUTIST Kris Palmer, concert director and flute, guitarist Steve Lin and cellist Isaac Pastor-Chermak bring their award-winning blend to audiences in Aptos. The program includes music of Bach, Paganini, and Piazzolla, plus new music by San Jose composer Andre Gueziec and Chilean composer Javier Contreras. After the trio’s recent San Francisco concert, the Rehearsal Studio blog wrote, “Contreras’ music was an examination of not only the unique sonorities of each of the three instruments but also a rich study of how those sonorities could be blended in different combinations…clearly a major undertaking; but those willing to listen to it attentively were richly rewarded.”

NEW CARMEL BACH FESTIVAL ‘ACADEMY’

DURING THE 2020 Festival, four string musicians will participate in a series of public masterclasses in Baroque and Classical style and interpretation, receive private lessons, chamber music coaching, and mentoring from Festival musicians. The Academy will be directed by Festival violinist Edwin Huizinga (pictured). The Festival is seeking applicants with professional experience and training in Baroque and modern string playing and who participate in or have a graduate or undergraduate degree in performance. The Festival is also interested in pre-formed quartets and encourages musicians to apply as a string quartet and focus on the period classical style of this genre. “My Festival colleagues and I hope to encourage the next generation with this Academy,” said Huizinga. “We have an unbelievable offering in Carmel with the Festival—world class artists, and incredible music. Now we are going to be able to teach, inform, guide, and inspire four young musicians every summer.” Festival Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Paul Goodwin added, “By creating a String Academy to go alongside our acclaimed vocal masterclass program, I hope we can share the unique qualities of our musical vision and flexible style with aspiring musicians. We want to help shape the future musical horizon of these talented young professionals.” 

NEW AWARD NAMED AFTER LENA HORNE

$100,000 HONOR to target leading lights in the arts and social activism. Click HERE 

 

PIANO PERFORMANCE PANIC

MARIA JOÃO PIRES was prepared to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Major but suddenly found herself caught in his Concerto in D Minor. Conductor Riccardo Chailly gave her courage.

 

“GOD HATES ART”

SO DECLARED early 20th century English composer Edward Elgar. He was right. Music is no less subversive. Click HERE  

HOW TO SAVE THE BALTIMORE SYMPHONY

“TURNAROUND KING” Michael Kaiser’s advice focuses on five specific points that have implications for and history of other arts organizations. Click HERE   

WHAT THE HECK IS A WAGNER TUBA?

 

THE HYPERTRAGIC NOTCH

AMERICAN PIANIST Victor Rosenbaum should be familiar to you. He has maintained an international career, has collaborated with many of the biggest names in chamber music, performed at numerous music festivals and premiered new music by a roster of contemporary composers. Rosenbaum has long been on the faculties of the New England Conservatory (NEC) and, until 2017, Mannes School of Music. After he played at Tully Hall the New York Times said, “He could not have been better.” The Boston Globe described him as, “One of those artists who make up for all the drudgery the habitual concertgoer has to endure in the hopes of finding the occasional real right thing.” This CD was recorded in 2017 in the NEC’s Jordan Hall. Its program of rarities spans the years 1797 (Rondo in C) to 1825 (Six Bagatelles, Op 126). The Sonata in A-flat, Op 26 (1801) makes a surprising impression because it is rarely heard. Unique among Beethoven’s piano sonatas, its first movement is a theme and variations. Its fourth (of four) movement is a funeral march. The Six Variations, Op 34, dates from 1802; its variations come in several different keys. The Sonata in E (1814) offers only two movements; the dramatic first (in E minor) whose German title translates as “With liveliness and throughout with feeling and expression.” The ‘Schubertian’ second, “Not too fast and very singingly played.” The Bagatelles were composed at the same time as the Ninth Symphony, a charming collection the composer called “a cycle of little pieces.”  SM

I LOVE THIS NEW release! The Authentic Light Orchestra was founded in 2009 by the Swiss multi-instrumentalist with Armenian roots, Valeri Tolstov. His idea is to combine ancient Armenian folk songs and mix them with classical influences, jazz, rock and a touch of electronica to create a new musical form. In this fusion of styles, all of the elements supplement each other harmonically, producing a unique sound and an original interpretation of Armenian folk—the defining musical language of the Authentic Light Orchestra. The album packs 19 pieces into one entertaining hour. Some tracks run less than one minute, others to nearly seven. The production is alive with high energy and vitality. But it includes some reflective pieces too. The synthesis of traditional music and jazz sizzles; the colorful arrangements include voices, folk songs, clicking insects, rain and flowing water. SM   

GLASGOW

MARY STEENBURGEN’S song for the film Wild Rose, sung by Jessie Buckley

 

FRESH REVIEWS

ME AND MY GIRL at the Colligan Theater. Click HERE

MONTEREY SYMPHONY with pianist Kun Woo Paik in Carmel; ENSEMBLE MONTEREY. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

SECOND CITY comedy in Carmel. YULETIDE JEWELS at Monterey Museum of Art.   

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

Monterey Symphony

By Scott MacClelland

MAX BRAGADO-DARMAN has made it clear that his last season as Monterey Symphony music director will showcase works—many that are found infrequently in concert programs—that he believes deserve to be heard. Case in point, Sunday’s performance at Sunset Center of Mozart’s last piano concerto and Brahms’ first. The soloist in both was Kun Woo Paik, a smart choice and an enlightened artist.  

If you look at or listen to the four concertos by Johannes Brahms—two for piano, one for violin and one for violin and cello—you will find certain unsolved technical problems in all of them. Notwithstanding, Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, in D Minor, retains its dominance as the greatest of the four. At 25 minutes, the massive first movement begins with a majestic but ominous orchestral introduction, with pounding timpani and angry trills on the strings, that would have become the beginning of the composer’s first symphony. (The official First Symphony, in C Minor, starts in similar fashion, but without trills.)

Brahms had begun the piece when he was 21 as a sonata for two pianos following the rapid decline of his mentor, Robert Schumann. But the substance of his music exceeded the capacity of its conception, hence its move to a nascent symphony and then its definitive form as a concerto. And what a concerto! Indeed, a reinvention of the concept.

The first movement, following the symphonic introduction, traces the outline of the classical sonata, providing the soloist’s entry with the standard repeat of exposition. Here, Kun Woo Paik began what would be a highly personal take on the work’s palette of ideas. This trope, obviously worked out with Bragado in advance, took on a whole different persona with the introduction of the lyrical second theme, in which both pianist and conductor conveyed some of the most memorable moments of the performance. In particular, Bragado shaped and molded the winds with a delicate touch and phrasing sensitive to dynamic shadings. Yet, for their common purpose, a few moments drifted out of sync between them.

The second movement, Adagio, was Brahms’ loving portrait of by then the recently widowed Clara Schumann. It was conceived on devotional, even ecclesiastical, terms by the composer and acknowledged as such by its subject. The Hungarian-flavored final rondo, which owes a debt to the corresponding movement of Beethoven’s Concerto in C Minor, introduces a brief and entirely unexpected fugue for the orchestra alone about halfway through. In both the first and, especially, last movements the pianist got big solos. The movement gathered increasing propulsion as the performance closed in on its climactic conclusion, 50 minutes after it began. Solos among the winds and brass deserve credit, as do passages played by the concertmaster and principal of the second violins.

The stage at Sunset Theater was so packed that the first desk of the first violins played with their backs to the audience just to accommodate the space required for piano and soloist. This was equally true for the opening Mozart Concerto in B-flat, the composer’s last. Some have remarked that the work is tinged with resignation. I don’t hear that, though there are fleeting moments where a shadow crosses the image. And for what it’s worth, Mozart, having lost both parents and several of his own children in infancy, was already on record as not fearing death, but describing it as a friend. In a way, this concerto, like his Die Zauberflöte, is a summation, a lyrical serenity.

Conductor and soloist embraced the first movement and the middle Larghetto in relaxed and generous terms. No storm or stress ruffled the piece or its performance. Mozart frequently deceives the listener into believing that all he needed to do was turn on the tap and let the music flow of its own accord. This is one of those pieces; it masks the effort he needed to work his magic. Mostly, I believe the choice by Bragado was fully intentional. Not as popular as many of the composer’s earlier concertos, this was a welcome opportunity to bond with the elderly—at age 35—Mozart.

The final movement begins with a characteristic rondo theme, but in fact it is in sonata form, complete with fully worked out development section. As the late William Malloch observed, “Brahms must have known and loved this last movement. At the point the orchestra rounds out the exposition, we can hear a clear anticipation of the sportive opening rondo tune from the finale of Brahms’ own Second Piano Concerto.” Malloch added, “It is no surprise that Brahms’ Second is also in B-flat.”